Social system protects from disease: dampwood termites
Members of termite colonies transfer immunity among colony members via a sort of social vaccination.
|Biomimetic Application Ideas|
|Concept could be used to look at efficient distribution systems and for fighting computer viruses or spam.|
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"The researchers exposed dampwood termites (Zootermopsis angusticollis) to a fungal infection to immunise them. Next, they placed the immunised insects with termites that had never encountered the fungus. When they infected different groups of termites with the fungus, they found that unimmunised termites did better in these mixed groups than in a group on their own. The immunised insects are carrying out a sort of 'social vaccination', says Traniello.
"As yet, the team doesn't know how immunity is transferred. But Traniello has a few ideas. Termites regularly transfer gut bacteria to each other, which allows them to break down cellulose in wood. So they may be sharing fungicides produced by bacteria in their guts in the same way. Alternatively, the immunised termites might transfer inactivated fungal spores to their nest mates, which allows them to experience the pathogen safely." (Randerson 2002:6)
Zootermopsis angusticollis (Hagen, 1858)
IUCN Red List Status: Unknown
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist
Application Ideas: Concept could be used to look at efficient distribution systems and for fighting computer viruses or spam.
Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Health, information, marketing, social networking
Department of Biology, Boston University